“We just made history.” That Nov. 5, 2008 tweet from the campaign of Barack Obama capped off the first presidential election of the social media age. Four years earlier, Howard Dean had begun to reveal the power of the Internet for fundraising and organizing in his losing effort, but it was the 2008 Obama campaign that really demonstrated social media’s power to be transformative of the political process. And yet, social media as we know it today was in its infancy.
The Twitter that Obama spoke to the day after he became President-Elect had around 5 million users — only a quarter of the total number of followers the President now has on just his own account. Facebook in 2008 was approaching 150 million users worldwide, a number that has swelled to almost a billion today.
Four years in Internet time is an eternity, and the landscape of social media has predictably changed in profound ways. Social may still not be a fully mature medium — none of its major players have yet hit the decade mark — but it is clearly no longer just a throw-in. A recent study from branding agency Digitas found that 88% of U.S. adults on social media are registered voters, and that over half will use social media to learn about the presidential election. It’s no wonder that in the campaign offices of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, digital strategists have been given a seat at the big kids’ table.
Yet for all the talk of social media’s potential power as a political tool, for all the millions of followers and thousands of status updates, the Pew Research Center finds that the candidates aren’t actually very social. “Neither campaign made much use of the social aspect of social media,” reported Pew in August. It seems that the campaigns are using social media as just another broadcast channel — blasting out partisan messages, and only taking very few opportunities to actually engage with fans, followers and voters.
So if social media ends up being another one-way advertising medium, like print, radio or television, is it really a game changer? What effect is social media having on the election of 2012?
Politics Transformed: The High Tech Battle for Your Vote is an in-depth look at how social media and digital tech is changing the way we choose our leaders. In it, Mashable reporters uncover how the campaigns are utilizing massive stores of data gathered through social networks to better target political advertising, how crowdfunding could shake up campaign finance, and we meet the masterminds shaping the digital best practices for electoral politics. We report on how watchdog groups are using social media to protect the vote, why social media has put even more heat on candidates to stay on-message, and ask whether voting over the Internet will ever be safe.
In spite of its massive and unprecedented growth, we’re only just beginning to figure out what it means to be social online, and political strategists are still in the early stages of figuring out what social media can and can’t do. The trend is clear, however: digital will be an ever more important factor as each new election cycle rolls around. We can’t know yet what the future might hold for social media and politics, but here’s how social is changing things right now.
- How Close Are We to Internet Voting?
- How Crowdfunding Is Rewriting the Campaign Finance Playbook
- Digital Campaigning: Meet the Marketing Wizards of D.C.
- Voter Data: What the Candidates Know About You
- Can Targeted Ads Save Millions of Campaign Dollars?
- How Social Media Can Safeguard Your Vote
- How to Market the Next President
- The Rise of Mobile in Election 2012
- Election 2040: The First President for Digital Natives
- Social Is the Secret Weapon in Local Politics
- Gaffesplosion: The Unrelenting Hype of Modern Politics
- Can Social Media Really Boost Voter Turnout?
- Why Big Data Falls Short of Its Political Promise